For some time, I’ve been meaning to write about what to bring (and not bring) when headed to Abaco or the other Bahamian out islands.

Recently, I noticed that Amanda Walkins, from Women Who Live on Rocks, covered off the latter part quite well with “What NOT to Pack for Your Caribbean Vacation.” The only thing I might add to her list — at least when travelling to the Bahamian out islands — is your American Express card. Very few establishments accept it.

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Munjack Cay, Abaco, Bahamas

So, what should you bring?

Along with the requisite swimsuit, shorts and flip flops, here are some suggestions from Tom and me and a few of our fellow Abaco lovers. Some of these are items you might not automatically think to pack, but you’ll be glad you did.

  • Gallon-sized Ziploc bags. They come in handy for packing liquids in your luggage, stashing wet bathing suits, storing the day’s catch in the refrigerator, protecting cameras, phones and iPads at the beach, covering sandy shoes for the flight home, and more.
  • A folding nylon bag. It can serve as a grocery back, laundry sack, beach tote or purse. Plus, if you end up having to gate check your carry-on luggage (most roll aboards are too large for the tiny overhead bins on American Eagle commuter planes, for example) you can stash your laptop, medications and other valuables in the nylon bag and bring it with you into the cabin.
  • A small, disposable flashlight. Without a big city nearby, nights in the Bahamian out islands can be incredibly dark. Though this makes for spectacular stargazing, it can be difficult to find your golf cart ignition or the path to your cottage. Plus, electricity in the islands isn’t always as reliable as back home, and there may not be a lantern or candles and matches in your hotel room or vacation rental.
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  • Special dietary needs. In terms of basic groceries, Abaco’s small markets can supply everything you need — not to mention Marsh Harbour’s Maxwell’s, which is as well-stocked as any American grocery. If you’ve got special dietary requirements, however, you may want to bring along supplies. Alternatively, before your trip, contact the grocery store closest to where you’ll be staying. They may be able to special order items for you. I sometimes do this with caffeine-free diet soda, for example, since it’s not always easy to find in Abaco.
  • An extra pair of glasses. If, like me, you’ve reached the stage where glasses are no longer optional, bring along an extra pair. I found these folding reading glasses at our local Walgreen’s. Not sure they’d be suitable for everyday use, but they’re great as an emergency back-up. And Tom recently discovered ThinOptics which, though they remind me of something Ben Franklin might have worn, will spare you the embarrassment of having to borrow glasses from a stranger to read a menu — which Tom and I once had to do.
  • Extra prescription medication. Though small grocery stores carry basic over-the-counter meds, there’s no pharmacy on many Bahamian out islands. In Green Turtle Cay, for example, the closest drug store post-Dorian is in Marsh Harbour. Though they’re happy to fill a faxed prescription from your doctor back home, picking up your medication will likely become a production involving a ferry, a taxi ride and the better part of a day.
  • Cash. Though most restaurants and shops accept Visa and Mastercard, there are no ATMs on many Bahamian out islands. Estimate how much cash you think you’ll need. Bring twice that much.
  • A couple of pouches of laundry detergent and a few dryer sheets. Over the years, to my husband’s delight, I’ve learned to pack a bit lighter. However, this often necessitates doing laundry at the local marina. Detergent and softeners are available on the cay, but they’re expensive and often only available in much greater quantities than we need.
  • Long pants and a waterproof windbreaker. During the winter and early spring, nights can be quite cool and damp. And tropical storms are a possibility at any time of year.
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This men’s fishing shirt from Orvis protects from the sun and dries in minutes.
  • A lightweight, long-sleeved shirt. The island sun is incredibly intense, especially if you’re in, on or near the water. And — though it seems counterintuitive — cloudy days are especially dangerous. (Take it from someone who once suffered second-degree burns after two overcast hours at the beach.) I love oversized men’s fishing shirts like the one above, which I purchased from Orvis years ago. It’s thin, vented and dries in minutes. Plus, it has lots of pockets for cell phone, lip balm and sunscreen.
  • A swimsuit coverup. Especially on the out islands, some residents consider it disrespectful when visitors parade through the settlement in barely-there bikinis or trunks. If you wouldn’t walk through town that way back home, best not do it here.
  • A small chef’s knife. Though vacation rentals are generally well-stocked, we’ve sometimes found the knives too dull to properly cut bait, clean fish, dice veggies, etc.
  • A floating, handheld VHF radio. Granted, it’s a splurge, but it’s great for keeping up with what’s going on around the cays. Most island businesses use and monitor VHF channel 16 and many broadcast daily specials, weather updates and other announcements. Plus, since a lot of hotel rooms and vacation rentals don’t have phones, you’ll save a ton on cell phone roaming charges by using the VHF to make reservations, order takeout, book day trips, arrange ferry pickups, etc.
  • A healthy sense of humour. Yes. I know. Back in (insert your hometown here), life runs like clockwork. But in the islands? Stuff happens. Or it doesn’t. The power will go out at the most inopportune time. Frogs, lizards and assorted creepy crawlies find their way indoors. The people in the golf cart in front of you stop in the middle of the narrow street to chat leisurely with a passing pedestrian. The phones don’t work if it rains. Nobody knows why. It’s just all part of the craziness that is life on a rock.

Here are some additional “must-brings” from our friends at the Abaco Forum.

And what about you? Tell us in the comments section below what items you bring or leave behind when you travel to the islands.

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Cherokee Sound, Abaco, Bahamas

2 thoughts on “What to Bring on Your Island Holiday

  • January 25, 2016 at 1:31 am
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    As someone who has spent years travelling around rocks, I concur with all your advice. I also always carry a small first-aid kit, which fits easily into a back pack….bandages, anti-septic wipes, anti-bacterial cream…aspirin, diahorrea tablets….you just never know! Instead of carrying detergent….I use my shampoo for my clothes as well…you only need a little for washing…and for the ladies…a pareo…cotton wrap …doubles as cover-up, wrap, dress, light blanket…never travel without one. And spot on….no AMEX needed….I travel around Islands in Bahamas and the Med….very few places accept it. Visa is the card to take.

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  • January 25, 2016 at 9:47 am
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    great list! if you can get your hand on solar instead of batter-powered electronics–or even handcrank–I recommend that for radio, flashlight, phone charger. Amazon.com has great deals. Solar powered electronics got us through Hurricane Joaquin!! AND DEFINITELY BRING CASH. I’ve also found pocket knives come in handy.

    Reply

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